Can Fungi Replace Pesticides for Crop Care?
Pesticides have long been used in agriculture to fight off insects that destroy crops. When used correctly, pesticides can kill or control pests like insects, rodents, fungi, weeds, bacteria and larger mammals that harm crop production and yields. Thanks to chemical pesticides, fruit and vegetable crop yields have grown exponentially.
Humankind has used pesticides for many years, even beyond the more recent use of chemical and synthetic pesticides used by farmers worldwide. Their use was first recorded in the eighth century B.C. Although they didn’t use chemical pesticides, they did find a way to apply fungicides to control insects, weeds, fungus and other pests.
Fungicides have made a comeback in the agricultural industry, especially as society pushes for sustainability efforts. Can fungi replace pesticides for crop care?
Fungicides are one of many ways to manage pests without using harmful chemicals. Instead of using synthetic materials to kill or ward off pests, some farmers harness the more natural means of killing insects through microorganisms.
This form of pesticide naturally prevents the growth of fungi and their cells or kills them. Fungicides control fungi, like mildews and rusts, that damage plants and crops. Outside of the agricultural sector, people can use them to limit mold and mildew.
Fungicides are part of a larger group of more natural pesticides that don’t bring harm like chemical pesticides. That group is called biopesticides, which are pesticides derived from materials like plants, animals, bacteria and minerals. They’re nontoxic and have been rising in popularity.
Biopesticides based on fungus contain parasitic fungi, which grow inside an insect’s or pest’s body and feed on internal tissues until they die. Unlike chemical pesticides, fungicides only focus on the pest and won’t harm other organisms. Furthermore, researchers have injected fungicides with a virus which makes it grow faster and may even cause disease in the insect pests.
In 2016, farms in the United States used over 1 billion pounds of pesticides. When used correctly, pesticides can be a great benefit to farmers and the agricultural industry. However, they still pose a problem for the environment and humans.
Pesticides have a direct impact on humans. Although humans are only directly exposed to minimal amounts of pesticides, those who apply them to crops may be at the most significant risk. Some pesticides can affect the nervous system, irritate eyes and skin, or even affect the hormonal system in the body.
The environment is also at risk for exposure to pesticides. When misused, pesticides may harm animals and other wildlife that they did not initially target. Runoff water may carry pesticides, too, which reach freshwater sources. The chemicals may harm aquatic life.
Many farmers, even in developing countries, still depend on pesticides. Still, with the push toward sustainability in the agricultural sector, they may need to switch to biopesticides (like fungicides) for crop care. Here are some of the benefits of fungicides for crops:
- Less toxic: Fungicides are less toxic to human health and the environment. There are zero chemicals in fungicides since they’re naturally occurring organisms.
- Direct control of the pest: Pesticides can kill nontarget animals and microorganisms. Fungicides focus on managing the pest and nothing else.
- Increase yields: Like pesticides, fungicides help increase crop yields, making the farm more profitable.
- Easy application: Finally, fungicides are just as easy to apply as pesticides.
While fungicides are incredibly beneficial, they’re still being researched and aren’t as readily available as chemical pesticides, making them more expensive. As they gain popularity, the hope is that prices will decrease, opening up accessibility to countries worldwide.
There is a future in fungicides as long as the push toward sustainable agriculture continues. Fungicides are a more sustainable approach to pest control because they’re all-natural. Perhaps they’ll soon replace chemical pesticides on the shelves.